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Meet the youth
NUVO spoke with five youth at IYG:
Joe, age 19, from a private Catholic high school and self-identifies as a gay male. "I started coming here the summer before my senior year, 2011," he says. "The main reason I came here was because there was no GSA [gay/straight alliance] or anything like that at my school. Everything was hush-hush, you really didn't talk about it and there was no need to talk about it. I didn't know anybody who was also LGBT ... I came here to connect with other people."
Kacey, age 17, attends an Indianapolis charter school. She self-identifies as lesbian. "Before we moved," she says, "I went to school in the middle of the cornfield and almost everyone was a farmer, and it was very conservative and very traditional. [A] hometown, backwoods kind of school. It wasn't really OK or safe for me to be out. So when I was 16, I came here. We had moved away from the school ... and I kind of found a home away from home at IYG."
Shawn, age 19, graduated last year from South Port High School. He is a black male who self-identifies as gay. "When I started coming to IYG, I started getting more acceptance from my friends and more accepting of myself, he says. So I guess you could say that helped with my self-esteem and also helped me feel like I belong somewhere with a community of my own."
Yriel, a 17-year-old senior at a Catholic high school, is Hispanic and self-identifies as gay. "I was really shy at first and my grades at school were just OK. Most of them were Cs and Ds. I was really, really shy when I came here. I just sat in the corner and didn't talk to anyone and avoided everyone. Then, little by little, I started talking to the staff and then I joined IYG youth council. It gave me an opportunity to put my voice out there and make my ideas come to life. I grew from there, and I'm a new person thanks to IYG." Yriel's grades, he happily reports, are now mostly "A"s.
Michael, a 16-year-old, is a junior in an Indianapolis public high school who came out in his sophomore year. Soft-spoken, Michael self-identifies as Female-to-Male transgender. "This place just really helped me get through things, especially in school. It's really, really hard to go through a transition when you're in high school. If I'm having troubles, I can talk to Christie [Clayton] and she'll help me get hold of someone ... if I ever need any references, she's always there. She always has everything you need, and even if you don't ask for help, they come to you and ask you if you need it. That's what's great about this place. It changed my life. I know I wouldn't be where I am today without IYG."
The "coming out" process is not about sex
Yriel: "When I came out, I first posted it on Facebook, because that was the easiest way." He laughs. "I started getting text messages and calls from people. Most of them were positive though." Pausing, he says, "Then, the hardest part was coming out to my mom. I remember, it was one morning and we were driving to school. I told her, 'Mom, I like guys.' She stopped the car. Turned the lights on. And then she asked me if I knew how to use a condom. And she started having this sex conversation. It was uncomfortable."
Shawn: "[Having an older sister who had already come out] made it a little easier for my parents because they realized 'OK, we have one more child who identifies as LGBT.' That made it a little easier on me. My friends, most of them are really supportive. I did lose a couple of friends, but I realized maybe it's for the best."
Joe: "I really began to think about the idea when I was about 14, in eighth grade. I didn't know what to think of it. For the longest time, up until about my junior year, I went back and forth -- Maybe I should tell someone. Maybe I shouldn't. It wasn't until the end of my junior year that I actually told a single soul face to face -- Then I told a group of friends I was really close with. For some reason, I thought it would be the worst, but they were actually OK with it. I can remember one of my friends said, 'Joe, you must have balls of steel to be telling me this. I have nothing but respect for you.' So, when it comes to my friends, they know and for the most part they are perfectly OK with it. I've never gotten a bad comment about it.
"But when it comes to my family, on the other hand, that's where the issues arise. I feel like I've given signs. I have hinted that I might be gay. I mean there are certain things I'm interested in that your average [heterosexual] guy is into, but there is other stuff that you typically don't see. I guess one reason I haven't told them is because my sister would be OK and same with my mom; they have a variety of friends who are gay or LGBT, but when it comes to my dad, he is sort of the lone one out when it comes to my family and his family. He is the lone conservative Republican out of all of them. We were talking about marriage awhile back and he said, 'I think it's only between a man and woman.'
"But I think that's hypocritical because he's divorced. Why should he be able to say what he thinks constitutes marriage . . .. His opinions scare me. Sometimes, I feel like he doesn't actually love me. I'm always afraid that something like this might make that very obvious."
He is silent for a moment, then adds: "He supports me in a number of ways. He is the one paying for my apartment and allowing me to live there. I don't want to be ostracized. I don't want to be rejected."
Michael:"I've been thinking about [coming out as a female-to-male transgender] for as long as I can remember, since I was a small child ... All my friends were lesbians and I had that group of friends. I was afraid if I came out I would lose that and it wouldn't be the same as it used to be because I wouldn't be one of them. Coming out at school was hard because I was on a girl's sports team and I'm in choir. I do a lot of things that are gender specific. At the time I came out, I was becoming more involved in things so my name was known.
"It's just hard to come out and change everything, change your name and... I started to tell people at school and I started to tell my friends - I've lost a lot of friends, friends I didn't think I would lose at all. I tell people and they're fine if it is just a small group of people, but they tell other people and a lot of people know and a lot of people come to me and ask me about it in very rude ways and they ask me if I'm the 'he/she' that goes to (name of school withheld). If I ever have to go to the bathroom, people watch me to see what bathroom I'm going to go into. I used to be in a weights program, and I've quit that because I got tired of people asking what locker room I was going to use. I wouldn't even use the locker room; I would use the handicap bathroom. It's just been really hard.
"My mom is supportive for the most part. She is getting a lot better than she was in the beginning. She is learning to accept me for who I am. Learning to tell her friends and making it easier on me so if someone asks her she is not embarrassed. It's not just me coming out. It affected my best friends at the time, which is why I've lost them. It affected my entire family in ways I can't control and ways that kept me from coming out for a really long time because I didn't want to hurt anyone else."
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